Of Presidents and Parrotfish
Lessons from the leader of the Marshall Islands
THERE IS A SAYING: “Ek mouj jab meloklok kilone.” It means, “The parrotfish will always return to the undersea cave where it was born.” I learned this expression from Her Excellency Hilda Heine EdD ’04, president of the Marshall Islands, who was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award at our USC Rossier Hawaii Centennial celebration this February.
Born in the Marshall Islands, President Heine dreamed of becoming a principal, like her father. She traveled to the United States to pursue higher education. In fact, her graduation from USC Rossier made her the first Marshallese person to earn a doctorate.
Like the parrotfish, President Heine chose to return home. She worked as a teacher and counselor and eventually, in 2016, became the first woman elected president of her home country—or of any Pacific island nation, for that matter. The challenges she faces are monumental. Due to climate change, her country may disappear in a little over a decade. President Heine now has the world as her classroom and a life-and-death lesson to teach.
As educators, we can all learn from President Heine. Being a teacher means being a leader. It requires us to have courage and vision facing challenges of any size or scope—and this issue’s stories showcase the creative ways our USC
Rossier community members are doing just that.
KAREN SYMMS GALLAGHER PHD
Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean, USC Rossier School of Education